My Word: James Bond and politically challenging times

Joe Biden, even without the “sleepy” epithet, will be pushed by a very “woke” crowd.

Sean Connery arrives at a ‘Dressed To Kilt’ fashion event in New York in March 2009. (photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)
Sean Connery arrives at a ‘Dressed To Kilt’ fashion event in New York in March 2009.
There’s a certain irony in the fact that Sean Connery, who died last week at the age of 90, reportedly wanted to kill the character with whom he will forever be identified: “The name’s Bond, James Bond.” But as we all know, you can’t kill 007 – at least not permanently.
Connery’s death added to the current “end of an era” feeling. The year 2020 was meant to be the beginning of something new and instead here we are struggling with a pandemic as nasty as something that a Bond enemy could try to unleash on the world.
I must confess to having a soft spot for the Bond series. Our much-loved pet gerbils were even named Sean and Roger after the first two 007 actors – until Roger Moore became pregnant and was hastily renamed Ursula Andress after the iconic “Bond girl.”
The early movies, based on Ian Fleming’s books, have an old-world charm about them. The Bond character is outrageously sexy and sexist – a chauvinist in every sense – but nonetheless there is a certain appeal.
Sean Connery’s Bond, of course, was not a real person – and that is exactly what the audience wants. It’s escapism. Pure escapism. He predated politically correctness. He fought evil in his own debonair style. His Scottish accent was an essential part of his identity and I wasn’t surprised to see a photo of him attending a “Dressed to kilt” tartan fashion show in New York that reflected both his humor and his proud heritage.
As my colleague Hannah Brown noted in an appreciation this week, his character unwittingly coined a Hebrew phrase: The agent’s elegant leather briefcase gave rise to the term “Tik James Bond” – a James Bond bag. I suspect the phrase might outlive the product: There’s limited demand for fancy briefcases of that sort today, as the world moves over to Zoom and virtual meetings in the wake of the novel coronavirus. In 2020, a lot of bygone glamour is missing around the globe. The release of the next Bond movie, starring Daniel Craig, has now been pushed off for more than a year. The title “No Time to Die” never seemed more apt.
My friends in the real and virtual world – the Facebook world – were divided into two camps over Connery’s death. Most mourned him or at least the childhood memories he represented. Others, however, blasted the Bond character for objectifying women. And they definitely have a point. But moviegoers could choose for themselves whether or not to watch the films and how to see them. For me, the movies were a form of parody: If you don’t suspend belief, the plot blows up long before the villain gets his just deserts. As Connery is quoted as saying: “There’s one major difference between James Bond and me. He is able to sort out problems.”
Nonetheless, sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. After Connery’s death last week, the Israeli Air Force published a tribute on Twitter showing the actor with IAF chief Motti Hod in 1967 posing next to a fighter plane with the serial number 007 emblazoned on its side. The Soviet-made MiG 21, which is now on display at the IAF Museum at Hatzerim, was brought to Israel, complete with its Iraqi defector pilot, in an elaborate Mossad operation which also involved smuggling out the pilot’s family. The opportunity to study the jet’s capabilities and weak points gave the IAF pilots invaluable knowledge in how to fight the MiGs ahead of the Six Day War.
I’m sure that the true story behind the Mossad heist of the Iranian nuclear archives from a warehouse in Tehran in 2018 lacks the romance of a Bond movie but nonetheless it was a breathtaking achievement. Trucks, rather than an Aston Martin, were reportedly used for transport, but the gadgets and cyberskills of the Mossad compete – or even outrival – anything that Q could come up with.
The beauty of the Mossad operation was not only that it provided Israel – and Israel’s allies – with a trove of valuable information on Iran’s nuclear project and plans, but it also sent a clear message to the ayatollahs’ regime: We are following you. We know what you’re doing and where you’re doing it.
It’s possible that operations like this helped pave a way to the recent normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain which, like other Gulf states, feel threatened like Israel by the specter of a nuclear Shi’a Islamic Republic.
CONNERY – THE real person, not the Bond character – famously said: “There is nothing like a challenge to bring out the best in man.” These are challenging times indeed, but they are not bringing out the best in two men in particular: Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
As I write these lines, it is not yet clear who is the winner of the 2020 US presidential elections. Observing from Jerusalem, I wish I could say this were just a movie, but it’s not.
Four years ago, I consistently said that the election would be close and refused to predict who would win. “Never say never” to echo the theme of a Bond movie.
Many friends didn’t think it possible that Trump could be elected. They then panicked and some likened it, in poor taste, to the 9/11 mega terrorist attacks.
Friends in the US continue to accuse Trump of fanning the flames of hatred and encouraging polarization. Some Trump-bashers go as far as comparing Trump to Hitler. It is meant as an insult to Trump but the terrible trivialization of the Holocaust is an insult to the memory of the six million victims. The analogy is false, vile and polarizing in its own way.
I dislike Trump’s vulgarity and reality-star style, but looking at the reactions to his election then and rerun now, one of the reasons he won was apparent: It was a backlash to the “ultra-liberal” mentality and hypocrisy.
I cringe every time I heard Trump refer to Joe Biden as “Sleepy Joe” and am pleased and relieved that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dodged the potential mine when Trump called the Democrat candidate by that name during a phone conversation following the announcement of ties between Israel and Sudan last month.
Think whatever you like of Donald Trump, one thing’s for sure: He has created a paradigm change in the Middle East. If Biden takes the reins, Israel – and America’s Sunni allies – will need to remain alert to reversals of game-changing polices, including the former linking all diplomatic moves to the desires of the Palestinians and going back to Barack Obama’s pro-Iran policies.
Joe Biden, even without the “sleepy” epithet, will be pushed by a very “woke” crowd.
Pundits wondering how the polls could have been so off the mark this time too – “Never say never, again” to give the movie its full name – determined that Trump’s supporters were embarrassed to admit it. Pollsters didn’t consider the possibility that Trump voters might feel intimidated – and what that implies. There’s a lot of hatred out there. On both sides.
Antisemitism in the US did not spring up with the Trump win – the BDS movement and its allies in Black Lives Matter and similar groups – have been cloaking antisemitic sentiment in anti-Israeli rhetoric for decades now. And the threat to the Jewish community comes from both the far-Right and far-Left.
The divide between Republicans and Democrats has widened even further over the last four years. Whether this is because of Trump’s deliberate divisiveness or the sometimes hysterical reaction of his political foes depends on the camp of the person you’re asking.
Similar divisions can be seen in Israel and elsewhere. It’s all or nothing. Either you’re with me or against me. There is no nuance: Just the good guys vs the bad guys.
Whatever happens, a stiff drink might be in order: I’ll have mine shaken, not stirred.